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Via Media

Born Blind

I think today’s Gospel is one of my favorites for many reasons.  The dynamic and exchanges it describes just ring so true, with this man being sent around, buffetted from the puzzled on all sides, trying to figure out what happened to him and who did it.
And even he isn’t too sure.
The way in which Jesus heals him points ahead to the sacramentality at the core of Christian life. Some despise ritual, say none of it matters, say that God is not bound by any of it. Of course God is not bound by it. God can do anything he likes. But in this world he created, he uses all that he created to reach us, to touch us, to heal us. Jesus could have said – go – y0u’re healed, but here he didn’t. He spits. He makes mud. He rubs it on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash.  As often as we gripe about the complexities and mysteries born of the Incarnation – that now God’s ways are mixed up in human ways, and wouldn’t it be simpler if God would just reach in and do some magic and bypass creation to act?
Would it be simple?
I don’t know.
But it wouldn’t be consistent with the very act of Creation and God’s presence within it. It is the glory and mystery of God-With-Us.
No magic wands, clearly labeled. Just spit and mud and push to go find the waters and wash.
One of the other points of this narrative that I come back to repeatedly is the process of the blind man’s faith – and I do see it as a process.
Just look at how he answers the questions he’s asked – they get gradually more specific with each time he is challenged. At first the one who healed him is just “a man.”  And no, he doesn’t know where he is.
Then, to the Pharisees, he says that he supposed the healer was “a prophet.”
Then second time with the Pharisees he argues that obviously this man must be “from God.
And then, finally, after he has totally frustrated everyone, scandalized others and been thrown out of the presence of the Pharisees. He meets Jesus. No accident. Jesus seeks him out. And gently asks him some questions – and in response, in recognition, the man, now seeing in every sense, calls him “Lord.”
It seems to me to be a very accurate account of how faith grows and develops – in response to questions and challenges in which we are forced to examine our encounter with God, who we think God is, exactly, open ourselves more and more to him until finally, we meet him again, having been through the ringer, from within and without, and can finally put our ultimate trust, no matter what others say we should do, in the One who touched us way back when.

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Bailey Walker

posted March 2, 2008 at 12:55 pm

The Communion Antiphon for today’s Mass captures the man born blind’s journey so well:
Dominus linivit oculos meos: et abii, et lavi, et vidi, et credidi Deo.
“The Lord rubbed my eyes: I went away and washed, then I could see, and I believed in God.”
I love the poetry of:
God bless you!

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chris K

posted March 2, 2008 at 2:25 pm

I often wonder in these encounters, as with the woman at the well too, just where were these persons and how did they continue, say, a month or year later…after the encounter. As with others who witnessed so much with Christ and were taught so intimately, did they have to be reminded by another big dose of the Holy Spirit in their lives to continue to help them continue to be fruitful believers??

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Hunk Hondo

posted March 2, 2008 at 2:41 pm

I love this gospel but in our parish all of the great lenten gospels are read only in the short form. Whatever editor did the chopping on this particular gospel was exceptionally dense even by the pitiful standard of his breed. Some of the loveliest parts are cut. God forbid that we should hear “neither hath this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God should be manifest in him.” Let alone “”Whether he be a sinner or no, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.”
Oh, and at the conclusion the celebrant said–clearly and distinctly–“The mouse is ended; let us go in peace.”

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Tom McKinney

posted March 2, 2008 at 4:31 pm

I’m sure the parts of the Gospel that got cut today in 99.9% of parishes today were not cut by accident. Some of the bracketed text included some passages that refer to “the Jews” in not so favorable a light. (i.e. the blind man’s parents not speaking out because they were “afraid of the Jews”).
Most of the time when a scripture pasage has bracketed(and therefore optional) text it is because there is because there are truths that are hard to hear with our Modernist, politically correct ears. The most meaningful part of the cut text in today’s gospel, in my opinion, is the end where Jesus talks to the Pharisees. “You say you see, therefore your sin remains”

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Julie L.

posted March 2, 2008 at 7:01 pm

Wonderful thoughts. I’m passing them along so that others can benefit. Also, I’m happy to report that, at the parish in South Jersey where I direct music, our two wonderful priests’ homilies were from a similar vantage point. Thank you for sharing.

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Katy Malone

posted March 2, 2008 at 10:39 pm

At my parish, the entire, word-for-word Gospel was read, beautifully, by our priest. (We were asked to sit–a foretaste, I guess, of the Passion reading, which is only two weeks away!) The homily was wonderful, dealt with the blindness, not only of the beggar but of the people who questioned him, not trusting that the miracle worker could have come from God–he drew a thread to the present-day lack of trust in even the possibility of a God of mercy AND justice especially the latter as reflected in Church authority. “Paranoia” he called this blind lack of trust, and somehow he related it to abortion and the other life issues, gay sex/marriage, divorce-remarriage, etc. etc., and the idea that making it to Mass somehow does God a favor. Gave us both barrels–just great. Then “Lord of the Dance” was the Offertory ditty–the only (and teeth-gritting) concession made, I guess, to lightening up a little for Laetare Sunday. Not a mention of it, and the vestments were the usual Lenten purple. Oh well. What’s sad is that probably it wasn’t widely noted. (Today’s readings, in the infamous Gather hymnals, made no mention of it in the “title” of the Year A readings.) Another tradition slowly being forgotten maybe. Sorry this is so long.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 10:56 pm

Our priest apologetically said that “”well, you don’t have to listen to me today” and played a power point presentation of the Cardinal’s Appeal instead…kind of a letdown because this is such a powerful gospel and he is a very good homilist. At least he writes a nice article in the bulletin. And he wore his rose vestments today, and there were two candidates being “scrutinized”, a newly-baptized baby and his mom being blessed, and a full complement of kids and families in the choir loft (“the family choir”). So lots of liturgical action.
Have you ever read Dorothy L.Sayers’s “The Man Born to Be King”? It is a wonderful work (12 radio plays commissioned by the BBC back in the ’40s) and this gospel is one scene. The humanity of the amazed blind man, his cowering parents and the overbearing pharisees just shines through. I don’tknow if it is still in print but it is worth looking for. I re-read it every Christmas and Easter, fwiw.

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posted March 2, 2008 at 11:42 pm

I visited the neighboring parish; every time I go there, I think, “If I homeschooled, I wouldn’t have to worry about the out-of-parish tuition rate over there, and I could go here.”
A part of the sermon was about being fearless enough to risk getting kicked out of the synagogue, how the man’s parents didn’t speak up but the formerly blind man did. (This priest is so fearless, he’s sixty-something and has never been a pastor. He’s a favorite in the area for this reason so we know he’s not just lip-synching.)
On the way out, I looked at the bulletin. You know the section on the front of every other bulletin, where it says “Marriage: couples must meet with the pastor six months in advance”? This bulletin says something like “Living together before marriage is harmful and sinful. Cohabiting couples must agree to live apart while preparing for marriage”.
How many envelopes do I have to turn in each year, where I’m registered, and still get in-parish tuition rates?

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posted March 2, 2008 at 11:57 pm

By the way – 1st century Messianic expectation included the notion that there would be healing in the tassels (part of ritual clothing) and the spit of the Messiah (this detail from Brant Pitre of Singing in the Reign)

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posted March 3, 2008 at 9:57 am

Re: “1st century Messianic expectation”
And indeed, the woman with the bloody gunk problems was healed by touching the Messiah’s hem.
Re: Laetare Sunday
*grump* Up till a few years ago, we still had rose vestments and altarcloths every Sunday! Around here, most of the priests seem to have taken the Scandal as an excuse to stop wearing them.
(Pretty darned sick, if you ask me, to slight the Church’s ancient liturgical colors in the name of not looking gay. Especially when this excuse was unveiled just when it became fashionable again for ordinary guys to wear preppy pink in the workaday world. So it sorta blends progressivism and homophobia in one big cowardly salmon roll.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be so noticeable if all the young priests weren’t still scrambling to _afford_ and _get_ rose vestments. Young priests are supposed to be able to borrow out of the cupboards or from other priests, or be given these things by their families and friends.
It really torques me off, to look out in the congregation and see all the people wearing Laetare colors, when the freaking parish can’t get its colors on. Bah!! and HUMBUG!! We have to look at DEAD STICKS all Lent, and we don’t even get some rose relief? You have to be kidding me!
Do you know when they put up pink decorations last year?
Easter. (Ew!)
I am considering some drastic action for next Advent and Lent. Maybe I can do something embarrassing thorough over the summer, like sewing up a set of altarcloths and vestments and stuff. (The fact I even consider this, when I hate sewing so much, should tell you something.)
There must be something we can do to free the color rose!

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